That put the pressure on Annen to deliver at Cincinnati's pro day.
And did he deliver.
Annen ran his 40-yard dash in a blistering 4.41 seconds. Of the 20 tight ends who might be drafted next week, nobody ran faster than 4.50 and only Vernon Davis (4.38 in 2006) and Dorin Dickerson (4.40 in 2010) ran faster in the past 10 years of Scouting Combines. His vertical jump was 34 inches and he put up 25 reps on the 225-pound bench press. Those numbers ranked near the top of the list among the draft-worthy tight ends, as well. In fact, comparing Annen's pro day performance to those 22 position players that were at the Scouting Combine provided startling results. In the seven crucial tests, Annen either led the position or ranked in the top five in all of them.
"Yeah, of course there was pressure, but it was more so pressure that I put on myself to succeed," Annen told Packer Report. "At the same time, it's things that I've done since I was little — running, catching the football. I knew that as long as I was able to relax and have fun with it that I'd be just fine."
Just fine, indeed. Among the people who count — general managers, scouts and coaches — there's no such thing as a sleeper this time of year. Not only has every stone been turned over, but it's been turned over multiple times. So, that Annen is considered the 225th-best player in this draft and a sixth- or seventh-round prospect in NFL Draft Scout's recently revised rankings really doesn't matter.
Nor does Annen's meager production. He caught 16 passes for 183 yards and two touchdowns as a senior. During a career that included three head coaches and six position coaches, Annen managed career totals of 19 receptions for 218 yards and two touchdowns.
However, he made the most out of his limited opportunities. He caught 80.0 percent of targeted passes as a senior and 82.6 percent for his career.
"Just being a competitor, you want to be able to contribute as much as you can but it doesn't matter whether I have to catch a lot of footballs or make a lot of blocks," Annen said. "Either way, being able to contribute and help the team win is the biggest thing. This past year, we won nine football games, which is really hard to do. Being able to win nine games, I'm not going to complain about my role. Whatever it takes to help the team win, that's what I'm going to do."
In a draft filled with one-dimensional tight end prospects, Annen has a chance to be a three-down player. With his unmatched athleticism, he has obvious upside in the passing game. And at 6-foot-4 and 247 pounds, he's one of the top blockers in the class. According to NFL Draft Report film study, Annen had eight touchdown-producing blocks and 64 key blocks/knockdowns.
"I've seen a lot of times that blocking and giving effort and playing through the whistle, that is just as exciting to me as catching a pass or catching a touchdown," Annen said. "A lot of that is the dirty work, and a lot of people might not realize those kinds of things, but the people that are around football and watch the film and understand things, they do see those things. I view blocking in the running game as more a pride thing than it is anything else. I do get just as excited blocking as I do receiving."
With his combination of size and athleticism, Annen has a chance to develop into that rarest of bird in this draft class: A tight end who can play on third-and-1 as well as third-and-10. He's played as a traditional tight end as well as a slot receiver and as a fullback.
"I definitely view myself and think that I can do everything that the tight end encompasses, whether it's running a route on third down or making a big block," he said. "I have had more experience blocking in my career but I know I have just as much ability to be able to contribute in the passing game."
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.